The outbreak of war was greeted in south Shropshire, as elsewhere in Britain, with patriotic fervour and a sense of pride in the British Empire. Volunteers for the armed forces were soon queuing outside hurriedly established recruiting offices. Fearful of saboteurs and spies, Boy Scouts started looking out for anyone acting suspiciously and soon they and the Boys Brigade were patrolling railway lines and the route of Birmingham’s water supply.
As the war became one of stalemate and attrition, with the associated increases in casualties, recruiting drives proved less and less successful. Many found less than honourable ways to avoid joining up, to the increasing annoyance and anger of those who had. With resultant conscription also came conscientious objection, with a camp for COs established at Ditton Priors. There also arose a growing need for hospitals and convalescent homes to cope with the casualties and the sight of recuperating men helping on farms was not unusual. Perhaps more surprising to many was the sight of women driving mechanized farm machinery, whilst others went to work in munition factories.
The war also brought out the best and the worst in local people. Knitting and sewing groups were soon established in every town and village providing the troops with ‘comforts’ to keep them warm and dry in the trenches, whilst parcels of small luxuries were sent to men the senders had never met. At the same time others hoarded food or sought to twist the rules of rationing to their own advantage. The fighting also brought widespread misery in the notification of those wounded, killed, captured or missing, such news coming from a variety of sources both official and unofficial and sometimes contradictory – with the resultant added anguish. For those receiving news of a family member or fiancée who had been wounded or killed the details were often only cursorily known and, if listed as missing, loved ones had to endure the agony of waiting for further news whilst clinging to the remnants of hope.
Yet, for all those who enlisted from south Shropshire, the war gave them the chance to see sights and gain experiences that would otherwise have been closed to them. Their letters home are full of their reactions, and not all from France, as some were posted to the Far East or to the Eastern Mediterranean and eventually Palestine, the Holy Land of their Bible classes. Indeed, their letters are often surprisingly frank about life at the front too, until censorship began to be exercised, in part from fear that the content was lowering morale on the home front.
Finally, when the war was over it was time to decide how to honour the men who had gone to serve their country, whilst for the ex-servicemen themselves they had to adjust to a life where employment opportunities were limited, especially for those physically maimed or mentally scarred.
Dr Derek Beattie retired to Ludlow from his post as Head of History at Blackburn College and soon began researching aspects of local social history. After mixing archive research with interviewing many long term residents he wrote The Home Front in Ludlow during the Second World War before turning his attention to the local effects of the First World War.
Paperback | 224 pages | 242 x 171 mm | 2014
110 b&w photographs